The De Souza family is probably the only one of the “Brazilian” families to have its own voodoo (also called “vodun”) deity, created expressly to protect them. Dagoun – based on the word “dragon,” is a Dan, or snake – a voodoo serpent classified as a Tovodun, or water deity.1 It is linked to Sakpata (or Omolu), the god of smallpox and the earth, of which he is the messenger, and Heviosso (or Xangô), the god of thunder. Dagoun has its own place of worship, followers, ceremonies, and worship hierarchy. Eight other voodoo deities are subordinated to it, which means the De Souza family is in charge of nine altogether.
It is said that when Francisco Félix de Souza arrived in Ouidah, he wore a gold ring on his right ring-finger representing a serpent with thick scales and a diamond for an eye. Those close to him believed he owed his fortune to the serpent fetish on his ring, similar to the Hueda Dan,2 since only a powerful serpent could grant him such wealth.
In an interview in 1994, Prosper de Souza, the De Souza family spokesman, explained that the mortality rate amongst the children of the first Chacha (Francisco Félix de Souza) was very high, so he was forced to adopt a voodoo deity to protect his descendants. A third version of the story, which is consistent with the others, is that King Ghezo gave his blood brother not only the title of Chacha, but also two voodoo deities to protect Ouidah. One was installed at the entrance to the city and the other at its exit. A third was for his personal protection, which the natives called Dagoun because of the ring he wore.3
The fact is that the Dagoun deity indeed began with Francisco de Souza and was worshiped by the slaves under his direct rule. Today, Dagoun is still worshipped by families aligned with the De Souzas, but it remains under that family’s authority.
The Dagoun temple is situated a hundred meters from the Singbomey estate on the road leading to the beach, which was the route along which the captives were led at Dom Francisco’s time on their way to the slave ships. There is a small plot of land which harbors the temple and the priest’s house. The name of the voodoo deity is painted on the wall and at the entrance, alongside a representation of Ayida Wedo, the sacred rainbow in the form of two serpents, a mark of Dan worship.
In the yard in front of the temple there are three trees – an akinhon, an agnatin, and a kpatrima – at the foot of which is the altar for the sacrifices. This consists of three assens – iron objects that take the approximate form of a small umbrella and that represent the manes of the ancestors of the house.4 Alongside these are the representations of the divinities Loko and Hxéli, who protect the house, and Gu (or Ogum), the god of iron and war, protector of blacksmiths and warriors, and nowadays also the protector of drivers and the like. It is here that the ceremonies are held to “feed” the divinities on the days of the Tpkpa market, which takes place every five days.
The temple is around 5 x 7 meters. It is whitewashed and covered with sheets of undulating roofing material. The facade, with two doors and a window, is decorated with paintings representing the serpents of Ayida Wedo, one Abomey parasol, and two hands, one at each end of the serpents, beneath which the words “Chacha” and “Agossu” are written. Beneath the hand at the right of the entrance is a drawing of a stool held up by three small monkeys.
The two serpents – one male with red horns and one female – are drinking water from the same pot after their symbolic journey across the skies. The parasol symbolizes the power of the Chacha in the erstwhile kingdom of Dahomey. The two hands are the hands of the patriarch, representing his ever-readiness to protect his offspring. The three monkeys are covering their eyes, ears, and mouths so they will not see or hear anything in the temple that cannot be repeated.
High on the wall, spanning the whole facade, is a prayer to the Chacha: “Adjido Hossou Kinmandakpa / Agoéé doblahé-doblaé vankolika-kpon Adjanakou klan-klan-ken hoékinmanhouloé / Honanhoun bohôto zan soukpé dokto hôdolankanhouto.” It can be translated as: “The first thing is to translate his strength. He is strong, the strongest man. In vain does the hyena stare angrily at the elephant. The crocodile does not eat fish and does not wish to. When someone approaches him with a problem, he helps. Oh, you who help! Even if you are an ant, he regards you as a pearl. He is the chief of the ago [a water-dwelling animal].” The end of the original prayer is not transcribed. Martine explains: “What we don’t like any more is the part that goes, ‘é plé vi plé no,’ which means ‘he bought the child and the child’s mother.’ This has to do with slavery, so we have left it out.”
The interior of the temple is divided into two rooms: an entrance hall about 2.5 meters long, which leads to a second room containing the altars, where the deities are worshipped. The walls in the entranceway are decorated with images painted by Ignace de Souza. On the left-hand wall is the Dan tree alongside a boat rowed by Dom Francisco arriving in Ouidah and a serpent snaking out of a kind of grass hut. According to the convent’s mythology, this means that the voodoo deity was indeed brought by Dom Francisco from Brazil and not given by the king of Dahomey. On the floor in front of this picture, a small altar contains eight assens corresponding to former priests. On the right-hand wall around a small window is a painting of an elephant, the symbol of Chacha Adjanakou, alongside the tree in the dance ground (sato). On the left-hand side over the door leading to the room containing the high altar is written “Dan Dagoun Aïdohoedo,” which is the name of the deity of the rainbow and the serpents that represent it. A drawing of these serpents surrounds the door.
The main room houses the Dagoun altar and the altars of the voodoo deities associated with it. The main altar consists of an earth foundation, forming the base upon which the objects representing the divinities are arranged, as well as others that are in any way linked to them.
There are also two pots, one male and one female, called nazen, which are used to fetch water in the annual voodoo ceremonies. These stand alongside the altars to Sakpata, Gu, Lissa, Hoxo, Heviosso, and Tohossou.
According to Dah Dagoun-non, as the priest is called, Dagoun is not a violent deity, and mainly protects children. It does not provide protection only for the members of the De Souza family, but – he made a point of explaining – “the voodoo deity does continue to oversee and protect the Chacha to the current day, and all his descendants know it and so they are protected.” It has a number of worshippers amongst native people and other Aguda families.
The priests and priestesses devoted to this voodoo deity are not allowed to eat crab, oyster, antelope meat or pork. The women wear a blue bead necklace. During ceremonies, the person who is possessed by Dagoun dances and moves about like a serpent, as is the case of all the other Dan deities.
The worship of Dagoun has been under the spiritual authority of Daagbo Hounon, the voodoo high priest, since the conquest of the Hueda kingdom by Abomey. The lord of the sea, he comes immediately after Daagbe-non, lord of Dangbé (the serpent of the elites – while Dan is the serpent of the masses) in the Hueda hierarchy, but above Houessi-non, the lord of Houéssi, a kind of Sakpata, and Zo-non, lord of flames. The Dahomean conquerors, however, changed the Hueda hierarchy and put Hounon at the top, with the royal delegation of Abomey over all others. This reflects, on a religious plane, the political will in Dahomey to open up the kingdom to trade with Europeans, which obviously involved sea travel.
However, Dagoun-non does not have a place of honor amongst the followers of Daagbo Hounon because his voodoo deity is too recent in the religious tradition of Ouidah.5 Daagbo Hounon is responsible for authorizing the annual ceremony in the Dagoun temple, called Xwétanou, and he presides over the commencement and conclusion of the work. This ceremony brings in the eight other voodoo deities under the influence of the De Souza family. According to Prosper de Souza,6 the deities “under his authority” are: Ganlo, Basan, Kpota I, Kpota II, Gbéhouin, and Wèkè, which are all serpents; as well as Gbeulami and Kirminon, which represent Sakpata. For over 50 years, a number of other deities have also been regarded as having links to the De Souza family, namely Ahoho, Dan Dossou, Aglanma, Aloufan, and Nan, all situated in the Brazilian Quarter, as well as Tokpon, installed in Zomaí.7
Daagbo Hounon is not in any way involved in appointing the priest responsible for worshipping Dagoun. He is chosen by the elders of the De Souza family, as has always been customary. The priest in 1996, when the research was undertaken, was Dah Dagoun Nonchéokon, born in 1968. He was enthroned in 1987 by Prosper de Souza after a 20-year gap, when the convent was maintained by followers without the leadership of a priest.
Daagbo Hounon, chefe supremo do culto vodu desde a conquista do reino huêda por Abomé na sua residência no bairro de Sogbadji. Compete ao Daagbo Hounon autorizar a celebração da cerimônia anual do templo Dagoun, chamada “Xwétanou”, e é ele em pessoa que preside o início e o encerramento dos trabalhos - 5 de setembro de 1994 - Uidá, Benim
No pátio do convento, bem diante do templo, encontram-se três árvores, um “akinhon”, um “agnatin” e um “kpatrima”, aos pés das quais está o altar destinado aos sacrifícios - 29 de janeiro de 1996 - Uidá, Benim
No pátio do convento Dagoun, bem diante do templo, encontram-se três árvores, um “akinhon”, um “agnatin” e um “kpatrima”, aos pés das quais está o altar destinado aos sacrifícios - 29 de janeiro de 1996 - Uidá, Benim
Pátio do convento Dagoun - 29 de janeiro de 1996 - Uidá, Benim
O convento do Dagoun, próximo à Singbomey, é uma pequena concessão que abriga o templo e a casa do chefe do culto. O nome do vodum está pintado no muro e na entrada, ao lado de uma representação do “Aïdôhoêdo”, o arco-íris sagrado sob a forma de duas serpentes, marca dos cultos Dan - 29 de janeiro de 1996 - Uidá, Benim
Pátio do convento Dagoun - 29 de janeiro de 1996 - Uidá, Benim